Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The argument from fine-tuning, destroyed

I'm a big fan of coelsblog. The frequency of posts is pretty low but the quality is high. (I've posted before about previous posts on religious tolerance versus respect and his destruction of the myth that Hitler was an atheist Darwinist.)

In a post from November last year, A fine-tuned universe argues for atheism, Coel goes after a classic argument made by Intelligent Design advocates and the like:
"A favourite and fashionable argument for God is the argument from a fine-tuned universe. The argument is that, were it not for many aspects of our universe being “just right” for us to exist, then we wouldn’t be here, therefore [and that "therefore" is the big leap] the universe must have been fine-tuned to produce us."
His response is devastating and draws attention to six major flaws in that argument.I've touched on bits of this before (although with considerable less eloquence) but I recommend reading the coelsblog post for the full six. (It's not that long.) Coel's 3b is my new favourite, though:
"The occurrence of things for which their environment was NOT “just right” would be a far better indicator of intelligent intervention. For example, an animal in a zoo is indicative of intelligent intervention; an animal that fits perfectly into its ecological niche is not an indication of intelligent design, but instead is amply explained by non-intelligent processes such as evolution. Thus, if we found ourselves in a universe that was not suited to creating us then that would be far better evidence for intelligent intervention!"
As he points out in another great post from Jan 2, Science can indeed answer “why” questions, it's not "that science cannot give answers involving gods", it's just "that science does not give such answers". Science also remains open to the possibility that, ultimately, there is no "why" at all. It is not that science has decided up-front that there are no gods, it is just that it currently has "no need for that hypothesis". Many atheists, myself included, are the same.


  1. I thought we DID find ourselves in a universe that was incredibly hostile to our existence. Thus the fact of the ideal conditions here on Earth for complex life (which I believe most agree are vastly improbable mathematically speaking) is all the more remarkable and the basis of the argument.

    1. I think that's a different argument, though they do often seem to get conflated. I think that the argument for fine-tuning is that if you budged stuff about a bit (physical laws, the position of Earth etc.) then you could not get life like us. It starts with an assumption that life like us is the goal. It's a question of fit, not probability.

      The key point for the "fine-tuned" argument is that there is (currently) nothing explicitly and obviously out-of-place to enable life like us on Earth. Things appear to be the natural consequence of how they are. Of course, one could postulate a Designer kicking things off to make them like that but the observation itself is not evidence in favour of such a Designer in the same way that Earth having signs of being engineered would be. (If, for example, all the planets of the solar system were inexplicably made out of completely different elements, or there was no way that a rocky planet could naturally form in the "Goldilocks zone", or there was no way that a star with the size/attributes of our Sun could form given physical laws etc. etc.) My (limited) understanding of astronomy/cosmology is that (unknowns about life aside) there is nothing particularly special about our galaxy or solar system.

      In terms of probability, I don't think anyone knows how improbable complex life is, given the conditions here on Earth and elsewhere in the Universe. It might be practically inevitable given enough time (and we have had a lot) - there certainly seem to be lots of potential Earth-like planets our there - or we might be alone in the Universe. I would question both whether Earth has "ideal" conditions for complex life - there might even be better conditions elsewhere - and that it is "vastly improbable mathematically speaking". The vastness of the Universe makes it highly likely to me, although we have no way of knowing at present. (With a sample size of one, it is hard to make any generalisations.)


Thanks for leaving a comment!